What Is Bakuchiol? The New Derm-Approved Retinol Alternative, Explained

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Retinol is getting a lot of attention lately, popping up in all sorts of over-the-counter creams and serums—which makes sense, when you consider the fact that it's one of the most well-studied skin care ingredients that's been shown to promote skin renewal, reduce acne, and boost your skin's collagen production. But it's not without its downsides—itching, peeling, and redness (at least initially) and increased photosensitivity. And for people like me, with annoyingly sensitive skin, that makes it somewhat of a deal-breaker.

The good news: There's a new natural retinol alternative on the block called bakuchiol (pronounced either "buh-koo-chee-all" or "back-uh-heel"; the internet can't seem to decide) claiming to deliver many of the same skin-rejuvenating perks minus the side effects.

Here, holistic dermatologist Keira Barr, M.D., helps explain everything you need to know about this gentle, plant-based retinol alternative.

What is bakuchiol?

Bakuchiol is a type of antioxidant compound called a meroterpene phenol, and it's most abundantly found in the seeds and leaves of the babchi plant (Psoralea corylifolia), which is native to India. And well before its recent surge in popularity, it actually had a long history of use in traditional ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for its ability to treat a variety of skin conditions, including vitiligo and eczema, thanks to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiproliferative, and antimicrobial properties.

Bakuchiol benefits: Does it perform as well as retinol?

Reviewers of popular bakuchiol-infused products are singing this ingredient's praises. One customer said it helped clear up scarring from cystic acne she had as a teenager without making her skin red and itchy like the prescription retinol her doctor recommended, while another said it helped minimize her smile lines.

Research seems to back up bakuchiol's benefits, too. In one 12-week, double-blind study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, half of the participants were assigned to use a topical treatment containing 0.5 percent retinol, and the other half were assigned to use one containing 0.5 percent bakuchiol. Researchers found that both groups experienced significant but equal improvements in lines, wrinkles, pigmentation, elasticity, and skin firmness with an overall reduction in photo-aging. The bakuchiol group, however, experienced less dryness, scaling, and irritation.

Larger studies are needed to fully determine bakuchiol's effectiveness and optimal concentration—and many experts doubt that it's quite as powerful as retinol—but these results are definitely promising.

How it works: "Although it has no structural resemblance to retinoids, bakuchiol has been shown to function similarly to traditional retinols by targeting similar cellular pathways—activating signals that play a role in the skin's ability to combat oxidative stress, fight free radicals, and reduce dark spots," says Barr. "This results in skin with smoother texture, less hyperpigmentation, improved elasticity, and fewer wrinkles."

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Who should try bakuchiol?

Barr says that anyone looking to even out skin tone or texture, minimize fine lines and wrinkles, and boost their glow factor should feel free to give bakuchiol a try—and, it's safe to use while pregnant or breastfeeding, unlike retinol.

"Bakuchiol is well-tolerated without the irritation of retinols, so it's suitable for all skin types, but may be especially helpful in those with sensitive skin," says Barr. "And, because bakuchiol provides anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, it may be beneficial for those with oily or acne-prone skin as well."

My personal take?

As someone who avoids retinol due to my overly sensitive skin, I was pumped to try out a sample of Omorovicza Miracle Facial Oil ($120) that came across my desk, which contains a blend of bakuchiol, sea buckthorn berry oil, rosehip oil, and sweet almond oil. While I've only been using it for about three weeks and haven't noticed any significant changes in my fine lines, it is a great moisturizer and I think there's been slight lightening of some dark sun spots. Overall, too early to tell, but I'm optimistic.

If you're looking to try out this trend for yourself, you have several options to choose from, including these relatively budget-friendly options: Avalea Phyto Radiance Concentrate ($43), featuring bakuchiol, squalane, and cranberry; and Whish Restoring Face Oil with Bakuchiol ($58), featuring black currant seed oil and rosehip oil.

Ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE web class with nutrition expert Kelly LeVeque.

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